The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced today that ridership had dropped by half earlier in the week and it was trimming its schedules as it continues with bus and rail operations during the coronavirus outbreak.
"We have no plans to shut down," Metro CEO Phillip Washington said. "We are a lifeline for this county."
However, transportation officials continue to urge people to travel only to obtain essentials.
Washington said the county transit agency has had no reported cases of coronavirus originating from its bus or train services or from its nearly 11,000 employees.
Metro's service levels have been reduced 15% to 20% and it is running a "hybrid service" similar to what the agency runs on weekends, Washington said. Officials said more information on the schedule changes would be published soon.
About 40% of Metro's riders are using its services at this time, and Washington said Metro is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as county health officials to operate under current health guidelines. The agency saw more than 550,000 daily boardings on both Monday and Tuesday this week — compared to about 1.2 million average weekday boardings in February.
Metro officials said they will remain "flexible" during the outbreak to provide service for essential travel.
Washington acknowledged that as the county's residents stay at home, there has been significant revenue loss that will need to be recouped.
"We do have multiple sources of funding, and yes, that funding is declining, and we will make adjustments as appropriate," he said "With the revenue loss, we will go as long as we can. We do need federal assistance. We do need state assistance."
Washington said he does not anticipate delays for major construction projects that are planned for the future and numerous projects are still ongoing. Management teams have been meeting with Metro officials daily, he said.
"Our focus right now is to make sure that our riders and our employees are safe," Washington said. "Our operators have been fantastic. Very few of them have called in sick, and they are really on the front lines. We do not see at this time a shortage of operators."
Metro officials said they will install more hand sanitizer dispensers at hubs for riders, and they are looking at how install sanitizer dispensers on vehicles.
Employees who may be vulnerable to the disease are able to stay home. Metro officials said they are still waiting on testing kits, and have instructed employees to practice social distancing.
Telecommuting is already been started among some Metro employees. Washington said Metro has "tried to create a balance" to controlling the coronavirus situation and is allowing employees to stay home, especially if they are tending to their children or sick family members.
Metro buses and trains are being cleaned once a day at least, with a focus on cleaning "touch points" such as handrails and elevator buttons that passengers and employees use.
Washington said he is not recommending the transit system make travel fares free at this time.